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Sunday, December 3, 2023
Dec. 3, 2023

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Clark County Council narrowly approves 2023 budget; vote splits on higher taxes

By , Columbian staff writer

Following an hourslong meeting — the last of the year — the Clark County Council on Tuesday narrowly approved the county’s 2023 budget after splitting in a 3-2 vote.

Voting in favor of the budget were Councilors Temple Lentz, Julie Olson and Sue Marshall. Councilor Gary Medvigy and Chair Karen Bowerman voted against.

It was Marshall’s first time voting from the dais after being sworn in as the District 5 councilor last week, and Olson and Lentz’s last with their council terms ending Dec. 31.

Medvigy and Bowerman said they were voting against passing the budget because it included property tax and road fund tax increases, which were also passed by Olson, Lentz and Marshall earlier in the same meeting.

Medvigy said, “It would be irresponsible, if not mean spirited,” to raise taxes by any amount given the current rate of inflation along with the gas tax hike coming in January.

Medvigy said the council needs to send a message to the community that it cares about the residents and their struggles.

However, Olson said creating a budget that addresses the county’s needs in a few years, not just next year’s needs, is being responsible.

“Sales tax is very volatile. We had one-time federal funds that won’t be repeated, we haven’t put together a capital budget, we have employees that are underpaid, we have jail needs and we’re launching a jail services department,” Olson said. “We’re not advocating for anything other than responsible governing.”

With the same 3-2 split, the council voted to take the 1 percent property tax increase along with the county’s banked capacity. For a median priced home valued at $525,000, the increase will add $7.19 to the annual property tax bill.

The council also approved a 1 percent increase plus banked capacity for the road fund. That increase will add $26.55 annually for a median priced home of $525,000, according to a report from County Manager Kathleen Otto.

Otto’s report shows the county is expecting to bring in $191.3 million in general fund revenue next year. That revenue includes $76.1 million from property taxes and $60.4 million from sales taxes. That’s compared to 2022’s general fund revenue budget of $179 million.

“Clark County saw an unprecedented increase in sales tax revenue in 2022 that has impacted our baseline forecasts,” Otto said in an email to The Columbian. “Additionally, the county continues to receive and allocate one-time American Rescue Plan Act funding for revenue recovery.”

Otto cautioned the benefit to the county’s general fund, which for years has been facing a structural deficit, could be short-lived and unable to offset rising expenses in the coming years.

To watch the full hearing, go to https://clark.wa.gov/councilors.

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